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Posts from the ‘Book Reviews and News’ Category

Go For It!

February 18, 2016

Susan Marg

Photo by:

Photo by:

Patricia Arquette has had an interesting life. While growing up, her family lived for a time on a commune. As a child, she refused braces for her teeth, as she thought her flaws would make her a better actress. From starting in the movies in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) to winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, among other awards, for BoyHood (2014), she also has had star turns on television in Medium (2005-2011) and now on CSI: Cyber. Her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all performers, and her siblings are in the business. Now she’s going to write about it.

Arquette has inked a contract with Random House for her book, although a release date has not yet been set. Of her new endeavor she says, “Writing a memoir is a lot of different things. It’s illuminating, painful, interesting and strange. … It’s very personal and a big challenge.”

Are you up for the challenge?

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

The Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

May 21, 2015

Susan Marg

When writing a life of family history, we all struggle for the truth. But the truth is a funny thing. It’s shielded by feelings and clouded by memory.

Illustration by: © marish

Illustration by: © marish

In his 1997 memoir All Over but the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg writes of his childhood, growing up poor in the deep South, essentially fatherless, but supported by a hard-working mother and her family. He describes his restlessness, moving around before settling down as a journalist, never forgetting his kith and kin.

Bragg believes he was born to write. As he tells it, “The only thing I was ever any good at was in the telling and hearing of stories, and there was no profit in that. I cannot truthfully even say that I went to work for my high school newspaper because of a love for writing. Writing was hard work. It made your hand cramp, and I couldn’t type a lick. Telling stories was something you did on your porch.”

But telling stories also got Bragg writing assignments working for small town newspapers across the South. He eventually earned an award fellowship to Harvard University. The New York Times hired him as a journalist.

Of New York City, he writes, “Through one of the coldest, nastiest winters on record, I roamed that giant, confusing place, but to say I searched for stories would be a lie. I did not have to search. New York hurled stories at you like Nolan Ryan throws fastballs. All you had to do was catch them, and try not to get your head knocked off.”

Bragg won a Pulitzer for his writing, but his proudest moments came from telling the truth. Of his work he says, “It wasn’t that I had gotten it right – God knows I mess up a lot – but that I had gotten it true.”

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Personal History Awareness Month – It’s Now!

May 14, 2015

Susan Marg

Within the past decade, Personal History Awareness Month – it’s May – was added to Chase’s Calendar of Events. Although this publication, first created in 1957, is now 752 pages and contains more than 12,000 entries worldwide, I think it says something that one of those entries highlights personal history.

illustration of head with colorful gears

illustration of head with colorful gears

As Sarah White, President of the Association of Personal Historians, says, “If you ever received something in writing from an ancestor ― a diary, a letter or better yet, a memoir ― you’ve already felt how important it is to preserve our stories for future generations.”

More and more folks are putting pen to paper, organizing their photos in a scrapbook, or recording their memories in a video. The popularity of memoirs as a type of literary non-fiction underscores how much we enjoy learning about other people. Their lives resonate with our lives. Alicia Florrick, the television character on which The Good Wife revolves, recently hired a ghostwriter to help with the task. While I have the feeling she’s deep shelving the project to return to the practice of law, that’s no reason for others to give up after an episode or two.

There’s help out there. The Association of Personal Historians, founded in 1995, has 600 members strong, who are devoted to helping those with an interest in preserving their past. If you want to do-it-yourself there are plenty of courses on-line or workshops at local community colleges.

So, clear your desk. Open your mind. And get ready to fill your thoughts with days gone by.

What? Nothing’s happening?!? That’s not possible.

What do you know about your parents and grandparents? What do you remember about growing up – your room, your school. your neighborhood? Are you on the path you want to be on? What mistakes do you keep making? What stories do you keep telling yourself? Do they share a common theme?

Examining your own life can make a difference, not only for future generations, but for yourself, as well. It’s all part of Personal History Awareness Month.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Questions, Questions, and More Questions

April 3, 2015

Susan Marg

Continuing to work my way through the recommendations of the Association of Personal Historians on books with guidance on preserving one’s life or family history, I picked up a copy of To Our Children’s Children by Bob Greene and D.G. Fulford. First published in 1993, it continues to be helpful and inspiring. There are about 5 questions on each page of the two hundred-page book.

Illustration by: © iqoncept

Illustration by: © iqoncept

The first section covers the facts, just the facts, ma’am.

The facts include your name, gender, date of birth, and place of birth. They deal with basic data on your parents, your grandparents, your spouse, and your children.

Just to spice up the details, unless you’ve given up salt, there are questions on being right-handed or left-handed, near-sighted or far-sighted, and overweight or underweight.

Subsequent sections deal with all of the above in much more detail. Some of the many other topics addressed are the neighborhood where you grew up and the community where you live now, your education and career, your favorite holidays and celebrations, your hobbies and vacations, and your personality and life philosophy. Politics and history are also noted with questions that begin with: “Where were you when…?” For extra credit, the authors suggest answering the “hard” questions: Whom do you trust? Whom do you envy? What do you regret?

When working on a life or family history, I prefer to let the client dictate those areas on which he or she wants to focus. One memory often leads to other memories, and many more questions arise. Different subjects surface. Themes emerge. Still, when the going gets tough and nothing seems to move the project forward, I’m glad I have a copy of To Our Children’s Children.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Into the Looking Glass

February 25, 2015

Susan Marg

Stock image: Depositphotos

Stock image: Depositphotos

Upon joining the Association of Personal Historians, a growing organization of professionals committed to helping anyone who wants to preserve their life and family stories, I thought I’d check out some of the recommended resources on memoir writing to hone my craft. I started with Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away.

Goldberg is a poet, an author, and a writing teacher. She inspires and encourages writing, in general, and writing memoirs, more specifically, with beautiful language, thoughtful advice, and practical exercises. But she’s also a disciplinarian, a stickler for details. She won’t accept excuses, although she’d be pleased if you wrote about them.

Goldberg rounds up the usual subjects that you can cover in a memoir – grade school, driving lessons, favorite holidays, and places called home. And then there’s the unusual – your mother’s shoes, your father’s dresser, your brother’s bicycle. Regardless, her exercises always have a point: she wants you to get in the practice of writing. As she observes, “There are no prescriptions in writing, no one way that will get you there forever. A little jig, a waltz, the cha cha, the lindy, a polka – it’s good to know a lot of moves, so when it’s your time, which is right now, you can dance your ass off.”

If you’re writing a life history, Goldberg also wants you to get in the routine of remembering. “Memory doesn’t work so directly,” she advises. “You need to wake up different angles.” Often her directive following her ruminations on a topic is: “Go. Ten minutes.” On this particular subject it’s to spend time on the phrase “I remember.”

As imaginative as some of Goldberg’s suggestions are, not everyone will willingly go where she leads. Clients might not feel like jotting down their thoughts about sex or money. Thinking about “the road not taken” or describing a winter funeral once attended might be deemed counterproductive to the task at hand. However, her sentiments are heart-felt and wise.

I recommend Old Friend From Far Away to anyone who wants to step through the looking glass into a seemingly distant world. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, especially if you practice.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Save our Souls

February 11, 2015

Susan Marg

One of the things that struck me when reading Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life was the music that was always playing in the background.

Stock image: Depositphotos

Stock image: Depositphotos

In his memoir, Wolff tells of his itinerant childhood in the 1950s. At the beginning of his story Wolff, about eleven years old, and his mother ran from her abusive boyfriend in Florida. Arriving in Salt Lake City, but finding no work, they drove on. Wolff writes, “As we drove, we sang – Irish ballads, folk songs, big-band blue. I was hooked on ‘Mood Indigo.’ Again and again I world-wearily crooned, ‘You ain’t been blue, no, no, no’ while my mother eyed the temperature gauge and babied the engine. Then my throat dried up on me and left me croaking.”

Settling in Seattle his mother remarried. Following a Thanksgiving dinner with his rather dysfunctional family, they sang. “We sang ‘Harvest Moon,’ ‘Side by Side,’ ‘Moonlight Bay,’ ‘Birmingham Jail,’ and ‘High above Cayuga’s Waters,’” Wolff recalled, adding, “I got compliments for knowing all the words.”

Wolff’s stepfather, Dwight Hansen, was determined to teach the rebellious boy some life lessons, believing no pain, no gain. Relating a particularly ugly argument whereby Dwight beat him up, Wolff notes, “I learned a couple of lessons. I learned that a punch in the throat does not always stop the other fellow. And I learned that it’s a bad idea to curse when you’re in trouble, but a good idea to sing, if you can.”

At the end of the story, Wolff looks back to a time when he was sixteen years old, riding around with his friend Chuck Bolger, who had just found out that he wouldn’t be sent to jail. “Finally he turned off the radio, and we sang Buddy Holly songs for a while. When we got tired of those, we sang hymns. First we sang ‘I Walk to the Garden Alone’ and ‘The Old Rugged Cross,’ and a few other quiet ones, just to find our range and get in the spirit. Then we sang the roofraisers. We sang them with respect and we sang them hard, swaying from side to side and dipping our shoulders in counterpoint. Between hymns we drank from the bottle. Our voices were strong,” he recounts. “It was a good night to sing and we sang for all we were worth, as if we’d been saved.”

Are you writing your memoir or life history? What music rocks your world?

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Play Dress Up

February 4, 2015

Susan Marg

Photo by: handmademedia

Photo by: handmademedia

Eighty-six year old Betty Halbreich tells her life story in I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist. From beginning to end, although there’s no end in sight, she fills us in on her upbringing as an only child in a well-to-do home in Chicago during the Great Depression, marrying into a wealthy New York family in which she felt out of touch and all alone, bearing two children who she loved and loved to dress up, divorcing her alcoholic playboy husband, and having a nervous breakdown from which she recovered by going to work.

Betty’s work saved her, just as her fashion advice and general counsel rescued those who found their way to her door, down a long, isolated corridor on the third floor of Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue, where she worked as the original personal shopper. I truly enjoyed getting to know Betty. She’s a name-dropper to be sure, but she filled her book with candid observations of those she has dressed. Since 1976 movie stars, Broadway actresses, and society ladies have sought her guidance, as have fashion designers, such as Geoffrey Beene, Michael Kors, and Isaac Mizrahi.

Betty always loved clothes, the cut of a garment, the feel of the material, and adding just the right brooch or other accessory. As a girl she played dress-up, secluding herself on weekly visits in her grandmother’s closet filled with “slinky, silky things” and her mother’s closets, two enormous walk-ins, when her parents were out for an evening. In her book she related her purchase of her first little black dress when she was nineteen years old and later acquiring a two-piece Givenchy dress in a “deep blue-gray animal-like print that buttoned down the front in a low neck, small-sleeved jacket and tight skirt,” as a young matron.

What details Betty went into, which got me thinking. Clothes might make the man — or woman, but they also reflect on our culture — from poodle skirts and pedal pushers in the fifties, bell bottoms and miniskirts in the sixties, to pantsuits, if you weren’t wearing jeans and boots, in the seventies. You get the idea.

Clothes also tell a story — about growing up, fitting in, or finding your own personal style. If you’re writing your life or family history, be sure to include your memories of a favorite piece of clothing from decades past. Why did you buy it? Where did you wear it? How did it make you feel? Did you have to earn money to pay for it or did your allowance cover it? If you can find a photograph of yourself in a tailored jacket with shoulder pads from the eighties, so much the better.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

I’m So Hooked On Six-word Memoirs

January 17, 2015

Susan Marg

Following through on my last post, I bought the book. I visited the website. I read lots of interviews with Larry Smith.

imagesThe book is It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs. It’s one in a series on life, love, and trying to make sense of it all in six words, no more, no less.

The website is, where, after registering, everyone is welcome to share their pithy and concise personal history.

And Larry Smith is the founder of SMITH magazine. He was inspired by Ernest Hemingway, who, when challenged to come up with a six-word story, wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Smith, in turn, challenged writers, even if they had not written anything since leaving school, to develop six-word memoirs. It’s amazing the attitudes, emotions, and humor that pour forth under such constraints. Thousands have found it liberating.

The craze has been going on for quite a while, years even. Schools, churches, politics, tech groups, and senior citizen organizations, such as AARP, have adopted it, but I just discovered it. What does that say about me? And can I say it in six words?

As a personal historian, I thought I should give it a try. I came up with: “Born a Baby Boomer. Still am.” I’m happy with this. It describes me. I believe each generation is different from the preceding one, shaped by social and cultural events that occurred in their lifetime.

Then I wrote six words, let’s call it a biography, for my husband: “Berkeley to Boston. Brrrrr. Back West.” He thought it was amusing. I thought it was spot on. He gets cold watching the winter weather forecast across the country on television.

Smith’s own account is: “Big hair, big heart, big hurry.” One of his others can be purchased on a t-shirt: “Now I obsessively count the words.”

I do, too. I came across a quote from Marilyn Monroe and checked: yep, it’s six words. I think it makes a great six-word memoir: “I am trying to find myself.” Are you?

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Word game. Game time. Time line.

January 12, 2015

Susan Marg


On a quiet weekend in the new year I went on Amazon to check out memoirs. I wanted to see what was on the list, be it old, new, naughty, nice, or soon to be released.

I scrolled past The Glass Castle and Liar’s Club, both of which I’ve read.

I was familiar with Brighton Beach Memoirs, a semiautobiographical play, and Memoirs of a Geisha, a historical novel. As neither is a memoir, I moved on.

Wild and American Sniper are both showing on the big screen, so I passed on them, too. Why curl up on the sofa with a book, when you can go out and see a movie?

Making my way to the 296th listing on the 25th page, I came across It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure. The title is self-explanatory.

I was not familiar with it or its prequel, Not Quite What I was Planning, by the editors of SMITH magazine, an online site dedicated to storytelling in whatever form it takes. But I was intrigued by the reviews:

“Will thrill minimalists and inspire maximalists.” (Vanity Fair)

“The brilliance is in the brevity.” (New York Post)

“A perfect distraction and inspiration.” (Denver Post)

“Dude’s weird premise yields interesting stories.” (Ira Glass, NPR’s This American Life)

“Six-word memoirs leave book lover speechless.” (Rocky Mountain News)

And there were the quotes, in this case “memoirs,” from renowned, as well as unknown, authors on the back cover:

“Father: ‘Anything but journalism.’ I rebelled.” —Malcolm Gladwell

“Shiny head. Hippie hair. Shiny head.” —Wally Lamb

“Bipolar, no two ways about it.” —Jason Owen

“I still practice my Oscar speech.” —Jennifer Labbienti

“So would you believe me anyway?” —James Frey

“The miserable childhood leads to royalties.” —Frank McCourt

I always want to inspire fellow personal historians, so I bought a copy. I’ll keep you posted.


© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Award for Ask Me Anything

November 20, 2014

Susan Marg



Linda F. Radke, Five Star Publications, Inc.;


Susan Marg, Cowgirl Jane Press; Email:

ASK ME ANYTHING Wins Coveted Royal Dragonfly Book Award

CHANDLER, AZ (November, 2014) – The judges of the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards contest, which recognizes excellence in literature, have spoken, and ASK ME ANYTHING by Susan Marg and Marie Rudisill placed in the Biography/Memoir category.

“Winning any place in the Royal Dragonfly Contest is a huge honor because in order to maintain the integrity of the Dragonfly Book Awards, a minimum score is required before a First or Second place or Honorable Mention will be awarded to the entrant – even if it is the sole entry in a category,” explains Linda Radke, president of Five Star Publications, the sponsor of the Dragonfly Book Awards. “Competition is steep, too, because there is no publication date limit as long as the book is still in print.”

For a complete list of winners including all first and second place and honorable mention recipients, visit and click on “Winners.”

To learn more about Five Star Publications, celebrating 29 years of doing business in Chandler, Ariz., access, email or call 480-940-8182.


Marie Cover 5 EAsk Me Anything is the story of the amazing life of Marie Rudisill, also known as the Fruitcake Lady from her appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.   Well into her nineties, she became a television celebrity, going mouth-to-mouth with anyone who asked her a question or sought help with a problem. Susan says, “It was great working with Marie, a lot of fun. She always had an answer on the tip of her tongue.”

Ask Me Anything, ISBN 978-0-578-14318-7, is a 188-page paperback book consisting of nine chapters. Topics cover Marie’s early life in Monroeville, AL, her days in the Big Apple, her careers as a caterer and antique collector, and her experience working with Mr. Leno and his staff. It lists for $14.95. An ebook is also available.


Susan Marg is the author of other award-winning books, including Las Vegas Weddings: A Brief History, Celebrity Gossip, Everything Elvis, and the Complete Chapel Guide, published by HarperCollins, and Hollywood or Bust: Movie Stars Dish on Following Their Dreams, Making It Big, and Surviving in Tinseltown. She is now working as a personal historian.

For more information, please visit or contact Susan per above.